Love it or hate it, the Daylight Savings Time change is upon us and we are about to return to standard time.
With that time change we “fall back” to Standard Time. While we often enjoy the falling back part because we “gain” an hour of sleep, in actuality, that gain is artificial as most of us ultimately wake up an hour earlier too as we get back onto a schedule, but that doesn’t mean there is zero effect. That hour of change in the fall and spring does have more of an impact than you think including circadian rhythm misalignment, fatigue, and increased cardiovascular risk.
What is Daylight Savings Time and Why Do We Still Follow It?
Benjamin Franklin is best known for his work studying electricity, founding the United States, writing his witty almanacs and inventing bifocals. One of his lesser-known and more controversial ideas was daylight saving time.
To be fair, Franklin came up with the idea for daylight savings in a satirical essay that suggested the citizens of Paris might be able to save a bit of money on candles and lamp oil if they’d just go to bed when it got dark and wake up with the sun.
“All the difficulty will be in the first two or three days; after which the reformation will be as natural and easy as the present irregularity,” he wrote.
Although the idea was introduced much earlier, daylight saving time was actually implemented in the U.S. in 1918 as part of the effort to save coal during World War I. It was not invented to help farmers get the most from daylight as is common belief, they were already working from dawn until dusk and strongly opposed DST. After the war it was repealed.
During World War II, daylight saving time was again reinstituted and once again repealed when the war ended. By that point, however, the practice had become common throughout the country.
Although common, the usage wasn’t uniform, resulting in over 100 conflicting locally established time zones in the United States. In 1966, the U.S. Congress passed The Uniform Time Act of 1966 and made daylight saving time uniform.
For now, Daylight Savings is here to stay and while it can be disruptive to your circadian rhythm and sleep, there are things you can do to prepare and get a better night of sleep.
How to Prepare for Daylight Saving Time
A shift of one hour may not seem like enough time to disrupt our sleep significantly, but our internal clocks are hardwired and synchronized to our 24 hour light and dark cycle. When daylight arrives, it’s our cue to reset our body’s clock. Therefore, when daylight comes an hour earlier, as it will for most of us in November, our bodies are completely thrown off. Our circadian rhythms will push us to go to bed earlier and wake earlier than our schedule or external environment.
It takes several days to re-adjust with the time change. Many of us will choose to stay up later, thinking we’re getting an extra hour of sleep, but that’s one of the worst things you can do.
There are steps you can take however to help you avoid these negative side effects. It just takes a little planning.
Go to Bed Earlier and Adjust Gradually
Luckily, daylight saving time is scheduled well in advance, so you have plenty of time to prepare for it. Starting a week or two before the time change, begin to adjust your bedtime in small increments.
For example, if you go to bed at 11, and you’re going to fall back an hour, start going to bed earlier, little by little, so that you’re ready to go to bed at the new 11 when the time change rolls around.
Get Your Children Adjusted Early
This goes hand in hand with getting your own sleep schedule adjusted. You can take proper steps for yourself, but if you have children, especially young children, your sleep schedule is often ruled by theirs. So, adjusting your child’s sleep schedule ahead of time is even more crucial than your own.
Our digital clocks may automatically adjust, but your child will not, and they’ll most often wake an hour “early”. Normal wake time for them will be the same time it was the night before and if you’re prepared to wake up at the new time, they won’t be.
Mornings are not the only sleep schedule that will be disrupted. Their nap time and evening routine will as well, and to prevent this you’ll want to incrementally adjust their schedule in the days leading up to the time change.
Move their naps and bedtime schedule forward by 10-15 minutes every day or two, as well as, their morning wake up. As you incrementally push the time forward, when DST hits they’ll already be waking up closer to the new time.
Be Fully Rested
Although we’re turning the clocks back an hour, essentially gifting us an extra hour of sleep if we wake up at our regular time, it’s important to wake up on Sunday morning at the same time you need to wake up on Monday morning. You won’t want to sleep in if you want a smooth adjustment to the time change.
It’s common to feel more sluggish throughout the day on Sunday, so the more well-rested you are, the better your body can handle a shift in your sleeping schedule. That means getting 7-9 hours of sleep at night leading up to DST.
Avoid Taking a Nap
As mentioned earlier, it’s common to feel more tired and run down on Sunday, and you may be tempted to take a nap, but it’s not a great idea. You want to fall asleep at a normal time and taking a nap could push your bedtime to later in the evening and feeling less rested Monday morning.
If you’re not well-rested and feel a nap is necessary, make sure it’s early in the day. Taking it too close to bedtime will make it harder for you to get to bed at night. Try to stick to a 20 to 30-minute nap. Anything longer and it’s too disruptive to your sleep cycles.
How to Adjust to for Darker Days
Fall is especially difficult when we get older. It’s more difficult to change our circadian clock in our 40s and 50s. The shorter and darker days of winter also often lead to early evening sleepiness, and many find themselves going to sleep earlier and waking in the middle of the night.
Seasonal disorders are also more common. With less daytime light in the evenings, our bodies produce less serotonin which is a mood-regulating chemical, which also happens to affect alertness.
Here are several suggestions for how you can adjust and create a healthy sleep schedule:
Eat a Lighter Dinnertime Meal Earlier in the Evening
Eating a heavy meal, especially a bowl of pasta or other high carbohydrate meals, late in the evening only contributes to a tired state prone to falling asleep too early in the evening.
Our bodies need to reset our biological clocks which take several weeks to fully adjust. By eating more salads, vegetables and protein for dinner and earlier than you would typically eat will help prevent the excessive sleepiness often resulting from a heavy meal. The easier it is to keep a consistent bedtime, not too early, the sooner our internal clocks can adjust.
Rethink Your Evening Activities
If your evening routine includes a lot of sedentary activity, it will only exacerbate sleepiness and a desire to go to bed early. Keeping yourself busy with physical activities can help.
Take a walk, ideally in a well lit area, such as a gym or a mall. Go grocery shopping, attend a social event or invite people over for lively conversation, or start a project that requires intense focus to keep you engaged. In all instances, make sure the area has plenty of lights on. A brightly lit area is key in the first few weeks to ensure your body more easily shifts with the time change.
Use Light to Help You Make a Smooth Transition
Getting exposure to as much sunlight as possible in the mornings will help you get in sync faster and minimize the effects of the DST shift. Stand in front of a window or step outside if the weather isn’t prohibitive, and soak in the sun.
If your schedule or location means you don’t get a lot of morning sun to help turn off melatonin production (your sleep hormone), you can use bright light therapy instead. Invest in an alarm that brightens when you wake up or a light therapy box like Journi. Getting a lot of light is also helpful for seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
It doesn’t seem like Daylight Savings is going away anytime soon although the debate rages on every year. If you have difficulty adjusting or feel fatigued for more than 10 days after the change, you may want to discuss your situation with a sleep specialist who can help assess what is causing the ongoing disruption to your sleep.